Wall Street Mastermind

Couldn’t Get Into Investment Banking? What to Do Next

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Sam Shiah

April 30, 2024

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What to do if you can’t get into investment banking

If you’ve been trying your hardest and doing everything you can to break into investment banking, and you just can’t get an offer for some reason…

But you still haven’t given up hopes of working on Wall Street… well then this article is for you.

We’re going to talk about the three ways you can still break into investment banking, by taking some less conventional paths.

A lot of times when people hear that we’ve worked with over 1,200 students, they assume that we’re mostly working with freshmen and sophomores who are trying to secure a summer internship.

While that does make up a significant portion of the students we work with, there’s actually also a smaller but still meaningful segment of our students who come to us really late in the process, often after they’ve already tried to break into investment banking on their own and failed.

Sometimes, these people have even graduated already, and are already working in another field… but they are miserable at their job and can’t stop thinking about what it would be like to work in investment banking.

In these instances, we have to determine if there’s still a viable path for them to break in based on their profile.

It’s much less straightforward compared to going through on-campus recruiting as a student, and there’s no one size-fits-all solution.

The three most viable paths we’ve learned

After having dealt with this situation hundreds of times, here are the three most viable paths we’ve learned – and I’m going to share them with you right now so that you can maximize your own chances if you’re still determined to break into investment banking:

The three most viable paths we’ve learned

Path #1: Get the most relevant job you can to investment banking for now, and then try to lateral into investment banking after 1-2 years

Pros

  1. Good if you have to graduate and start working right away, and/or you don’t want to have to invest more money into your education
  2. Also might be necessary if you did a summer internship in investment banking but didn’t get a return offer, and then got shut out during full-time recruiting

Cons

Downside is a lot of times you might not be able to lateral directly into one of the more reputable banks; that might have to be a 2-step process.

💡Three types of relevant jobs:

  • Transactional finance: private equity, corporate banking, corporate development, Big 4 transaction advisory services. These are the most relevant to investment banking.
  • Valuation related roles: equity research, valuation firms, any type of investment role where you’re analyzing individual companies/stocks. These are also pretty good if you can’t get one of the transactional finance roles above.
  • Other tangential finance roles: Big 4 audit, financial planningi & analysis (“FP&A”), private wealth management, sales and trading. These are the least relevant so should be used as a last resort. When market conditions are good, we’ve still seen people lateral into investment banking successfully from these fields.

Path #2: Delaying graduation

There are two ways to do this:

1) Taking an extra semester in undergrad and graduating in 4.5 years

2) Getting a Masters in Finance

Pros

This is a good option if doing so would actually extend your runway long enough for you to re-recruit for the following year.

Usually this means you either have to know you’re going to do this early enough, so make sure you’re familiar with the recruiting timeline so that you can calculate if delaying actually makes sense.

I’ve included some illustrative examples below:

  • Example 1: you are a first semester junior
    For example, if you are a first semester junior and you know that all of the bulge bracket and elite boutique banks are already finished recruiting for your junior summer at this point, you might decide to delay your graduation by a semester which reclassifies you as a sophomore. Now you are at the very beginning of the recruiting process for the following summer, which gives you a clean slate to re-recruit again with all the top tier firms
  • Example 2: you are an international student
    An example of when this doesn’t work is say you’re an international student, and you’re already a second semester senior. You decide to take an extra semester which pushes back your graduation date and reclassifies you as a second semester junior, but that doesn’t help you because all the bigger banks that would typically sponsor international students, such as the bulge bracket, elite boutique, and middle market banks. These firms are all done recruiting for junior summer interns already by the time you’re a second semester junior, so it still doesn’t really give you any new opportunities to go after. In this instance, delaying graduation would be a gigantic waste of time and money
  • Example 3: what about MSF students?
    Similarly, when you are choosing a Masters in Finance program, a lot of them are 1 year programs. Sometimes depending on when you’re applying, adding only 1 year to your graduation date does not extend your recruiting runway enough to actually make a difference on the options you have. In these instances, you might have to pick a MSF program that’s 1.5 years long instead of just 1 year… these programs are more rare but they do exist out there. If you want a list feel free to also reach out to our team and we’ll be happy to share it with you wallstmastermind.com/apply

Cons

The main downside is cost, because you have to pay for extra schooling – which can be an extra 5-6 figures depending on if you’re just extending by a semester or doing a MSF program, which is going to be more expensive.

Path #3: Getting an MBA

This would require you to work for at least two to four years after college, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be in finance.

If you’re already graduated and working outside of finance, then this is probably the only viable path for you because most MBA candidates for investment banking are career switchers anyway.

That’s why they’re going to business school in the first place, so the banks are going to be very receptive to it.

Pros

The benefit of going this path is that you have a much higher chance of breaking into investment banking, and it gives you the opportunity to go straight into a reputable firm, unlike if you were to try and lateral in through a somewhat relevant finance job.

According to Mergers and Inquisitions, 30-40% of candidates in the top MBA programs who apply for investment banking roles will win at least one offer, and 10-15% of the candidates will win an offer at their top choice

Cons

The downside is obviously time and cost. You’d have to work for two to four years after college, then go to business school for two more years, so by the time you start in investment banking you are in your late 20’s already and some people don’t want to wait that long.

Cost wise, a top MBA can cost over $200k over two years after you factor in all the living expenses, so it’s very expensive.

Last but not least, there are still 60-70% of the candidates who invest all this time and money, and still don’t end up breaking into investment banking.

If investment banking is the sole reason why you’re going to business school, it might not be the best idea.

And of course, you would have to be accepted into a top MBA program in the first place.

Ideally top 10, but minimum top 20. Which is not easy to do and not a given.

This is extremely important at the MBA level because the bulge bracket, elite boutique, and reputable middle market banks pretty much won’t hire from non-target MBA programs like they do at the undergrad level.

The reason being that a lot of people go to non-target undergrads for cost reasons.

But at the MBA level, these top MBA programs look for pretty similar things as the most competition employers in the world, so whether you can break into a top MBA program is a pretty good leading indicator for the investment banks when it comes to determining whether you’d be a good hire.

Last but not least, you will also be going into investment banking as an associate.

So if you were planning on using banking just to get to buyside jobs like private equity or hedge funds, it will be possible, but much, much harder.

Probably only the smaller lower middle market funds that are below $1 billion in fund size will be willing to hire you

Which path you should take?

In terms of which path you should take, there is no right or wrong her and it really depends on your personal situation, and what you want to optimize for.

I listed out all the pros and cons for each option because it’s all about tradeoffs, so you have to really think hard about what would suit you the best.

Keep in mind that if you don’t get into investment banking as either an analyst or associate, then there really isn’t any other “on-ramps” into this career path.

My final thoughts

I usually recommend most people go with the lateral or delaying graduation options first, and keep the MBA route in their back pocket as a last resort.

After that, if you still don’t break into investment banking, then unfortunately it’s most likely time to give up your investment banking dreams.


Need help navigating through this process?

If you’re someone who’s struggled to break into investment banking on your own but you’re still holding out hope, I hope I gave you more clarity on some of the different paths you might want to consider.

If you ever need help navigating through this complicated process — please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team here: wallstmastermind.com/apply

Wall Street Mastermind, Banking on Success Event NYC 2023

About me

As a former Morgan Stanley banker, my mission through starting Wall Street Mastermind—the original and premier Wall Street coaching program since 2018—is to help our students secure the highest-paying, most prestigious jobs on Wall Street.

Connect with me

📍Linkedin www.linkedin.com/in/samshiah/

📍Youtube www.youtube.com/@SamShiahTalksFinance/

📍Instagram www.instagram.com/wallstreetmastermind/

Talk to our team to get help with your investment banking recruiting process

📍wallstmastermind.com/apply

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